The WordPress Meet-Up


I drove to Huntington Beach tonight. There’s a monthly WordPress meetup for developers. It was a room full of people who know more than me.

WordPress is the software that runs this blog and all the sites I build. It’s used for millions of websites worldwide.

I just put together a simple WordPress site for the wrestling team at my Cousin Max’s high school. They had a site put together by a parent using online templates. It was tough to keep updated and it looked like it was done by a parent using online templates!

Someone put a lot of work into that old site. Sad. It’s probably sold as being easy-to-do.

There was a lot of talk at tonight’s meet-up about databases. I nodded attentively, but there was a lot over-my-head.

I need to be stronger there. It’s my Achilles heel. Unfortunately, it also provides the organization that makes modern sites possible.

I enjoy working on the ‘front end,’ putting together the parts website users see. I can get lost in my work while coding.

Web design is a creative pursuit. That’s the challenge.

The Road To Hell

As I pitch new website designs I also get to peek at old ones. Think of this chore as performing Internet autopsies! So often I find the road to Hell really is paved with good intentions.

Often it’s simple stuff, like out-of-country, non-American English speaking designers, working for large companies with big TV ad budgets. If only the process and finished websites matched the sizzle of the TV ads.

Mutual understanding, client-to-designer and back, is critical. That’s what sad site owners have told me.

A lot of small businesses try to put up sites on their own. It can be done. I’ve seen it done.

Unfortunately design appears tantalizingly simple–until you do it. They leave that little tidbit out of the commercials.

What brings this up is a site I looked at this morning. It’s for a company that sells specialized products to industry. I’m not going to mention their name and sincerely hope I get their business.

Their vintage 2002 website is horrendous, but not for lack of trying.

What amazes me is the site was written in Microsoft Word. At one time Microsoft pitched Word as a way to build web pages. Today most web developers laugh at it, but in 2002 it probably seemed like a good idea.

The site took someone an immense amount of time, effort and personal grief. It’s awful, but not because the designer slacked off. The tools used made good work nearly impossible to achieve. What a shame.

How were they to know? Microsoft’s name, at that point the gold standard of computing, was on it.

I feel bad so much went into this project with so little to show. Good intentions. Not enough.

I’d like to get the gig.

Working On The Web

I’m not entirely sure what the future will hold, but I’ve started building some new websites. Maybe that’s the answer for me, web design? It’s something I’ve enjoyed doing in the past.

Here’s the problem, right now I work at the speed of a hobbyist. I know what I’m doing, but I’m not as fast as I can be. That will change.

As has been my practice over the last few years I build websites using WordPress. WP was originally designed as blog software. This blog runs on WordPress.

Nowadays it’s often the choice for more conventional websites. WordPress is very versatile with hundreds of special purpose plug-ins available and an active (and helpful) community of developers.

WordPress is the software that provides the framework to store a site’s content–words, images, video.

I design the ‘front end’–how the website looks. WordPress handles the backend you don’t see.

I do most of my work in CSS and HTML with a tiny bit of PHP thrown in. These are computer languages web browsers understands. Spelling counts! The code must be properly written following exactly the rules of the language.

As I put these sites online I’ll let you take a look so you can tell me what you think.

It’s meticulous work, but when a project comes out and looks good it’s very rewarding.

What’s My Font?

Boy wish I knew what that font was? It’s tough to replicate when you can’t even name it.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know that during my period of “expanded sofa time” I offered to produce an organization’s website for free. I’m in the midst of doing that now for the Beacon Falls Congregational Church. So far they’re happy.

Don’t look yet. Their old site it still there!

The church has certain iconic elements in use that will also be on the website. There’s a beautiful fan design and the distinctive font used on the sign you see above.

Boy I wish I knew what that font was? It’s tough to replicate when you can’t even name it.

OK–I won’t tease. I now know the font is University Roman Normal. Finding out what it was was half the fun!

I headed to Identifont and began to answer a series of questions about my font. Did it have serifs? What did the “q” look like? Since the church’s logo only has three upper case letters and about a dozen lower case most of the questions were answered “not sure.”

What started as 7,644 possible fonts was quickly whittled and whittled and whittled again. Identifont threw up its hands with only 30 possible matches left. It took a few seconds more to find my match.

I’ll use this font for the logo by converting it to an image. It won’t appear elsewhere. Designing for the Internet has lots of restrictions. Webpages only display fonts already installed on your computer&#185! It’s doubtful you’ve got this one.

&#185 – This restriction will soon be lifted, but for compatibility sake not yet.

My Good Deed Offer

I’d like to design a website for a small charity or civic organization. I will do it for free, no strings attached.

If you’re involved with a small charity or civic organization listen up. I want to make you an offer. Among the skills I’ve been honing here in my “off season” is web design. I’d like to design a website for a small charity or civic organization. I will do it for free, no strings attached.

It will be impossible for me to pick the right group, so after I get submissions I will let my readers/viewers do the choosing.

To qualify:

  • If your group is a charity it must be properly registered with the State of Connecticut as a charity.
  • Your charity or organization must benefit a group, not a single individual.
  • If you’re submitting a civic group, it must be a non-for-profit group
  • Your organization’s good deeds should be performed primarily in Connecticut for the benefit of people who live here.

I love the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and March of Dimes, but I’m not offering this to them. I am looking for a smaller group without the resources to easily put something online.

I will build you a multipage website. It will be based on WordPress which is the software that drives my site and many others. You will have to provide a webhost and domain name. Usually you can purchase a plan which will work for under $10/month. I will help you find a webhost, but you’ll have to make the purchase.

If you want photos included–no problem. If you want a short (under two minutes) video clip consider it done! I will do what I can to accommodate you.

You will be responsible for the content (the words) and may be called upon to guide me toward your vision of a site.

I reserve the right to make up the rules as we go along (because I might have forgotten something important), but I will not charge you a penny and you will get my best work.

When I am finished you will have an easily updated website you can maintain yourself though I’ll do what I can to help.

To nominate your organization or charity please leave a comment on this post (not on Facebook). Please tell everyone about your group in two or three sentences–no more. Include your email address so I can get in contact with you.

I’ll take submissions through the weekend then open up the voting sometime next week.

One last thing. Help me get the word out. Clicking the Facebook “Like” button under this sentence will put a link to this post on your Facebook wall and help get more people involved.

As If I Knew What I Was Doing

I know my way around the backend of a webserver. Still, I think anyone could have installed this without too much trouble.

Back 25+ years ago while I was hosting PM Magazine/Buffalo I ran into a nice young girl woman producer. She made sure I hit my mark and properly intro’d Captain Carrot and Chef Tell.

Obviously she had her act together because her career has really done well and she’s been responsible for some pretty big TV hits and has some Emmy awards to prove it. Recently she and her business partner split and she decided to take me up on an offer I’d made many times over the years–put up a website for her.

I did a little work this weekend and more last night. The site’s not ready to unveil yet but it’s coming along.

This site is based on MovableType, free blogging software (though useful for more than blogging). I use MT because Peter Sachs who installed it also used it! He put in what he knew–and I’ll always be grateful. For my friend’s new site I decided to try WordPress. Again, this is free software, heavily supported by a very active community.


The website installed in under five minutes. There was some information to fill into forms to get the program to properly speak with the server, but that was fairly painless. I’m not a neophyte. I know my way around the backend of a webserver. Still, I think anyone could have installed this without too much trouble.

What really impressed me with WordPress was the ease of modifying the look.

Hold on. Let me take a step back. What software like WordPress, MovableType, Joomla, Drupal and other do is separate content from look. I can change how this website looks without messing with my entries. Everything should fall right back into place. For web design that’s power.

I was able to take a template and modify it to fit the look I wanted in just a few minutes. I was astounded how easily I was able to accomplish my goal.

My friend’s website is hosted on a plan that costs her $9.99 a month, includes three domains ( would be a domain), unlimited mail addresses and more storage space and bandwidth than she’ll ever use. And since I’m doing my part free, it’s quite a deal.

When I’m done, I’ll post the link. Right now I just want to put out the word, it’s easier than you think.

Changes On The Way

This seems to be as good a time as any to blow out the underlying formatting of this blog and start over! It has grown organically as I’ve learned more about web design. Much of this blog was coded during my “I wonder what that button does” phase of tech knowledge.

When I upgraded to Movable Type version 4.1, I knew there would be some problems… and there are.  Comments are still not working.

This seems to be as good a time as any to blow out the underlying formatting of this blog and start over!  It has grown organically as I’ve learned more about web design.  Much of this blog was coded during my “I wonder what that button does” phase of tech knowledge.

This blog exists in two distinct parts – content and format.  The content will not change.  The format will.  Format is ordained by templates.  Later tonight I plan to replace all the templates on the site.  Things will look very different.

At first, should look like a zillion other blogs.  Then, over the next week or so, I will try and tweak it to something more personal.

Did I mention I really don’t know what I’m doing?

I’ve spent much of the afternoon downloading all of the site’s content and framework in a number of different ways.  I want everything available, should I be forced to restart from scratch.

Wish me luck.

Working Out The Kinks

Helaine and I spent a good part of the afternoon working on the ‘business’. It was an interesting exercise, because I’d never tried to quantify exactly what has to be done before.

What I learned was, step-by-step it’s not so difficult. Putting together all the steps is.. and a little confusing to boot.

Now, when people ask, “can’t I do this myself,” I’ll have a better grasp on why I should say, “no.”

Unless you understand the nuisances of web design, these are kludgey, disjointed, meaningless moves. Even knowing how it all turns out, some of the steps still make no outward sense.

Helaine was quite game, taking notes on a yellow legal pad. In the end, she’ll be doing a lot of this. Before long she’ll probably even understand what she’s doing.

That’s really the exciting part, because once she understands the big picture, she’ll be able to make the process better and see things I never thought of.

It’s scary, but it’s coming together.

Working Hard In PJs

Usually, by this time of night, I’ve posted something on the blog. Today I’ve been very busy. I’ve been working on a new website.

I hinted around about this site before… but it’s taking a long time to get it up to speed. And, as was the case earlier, I’m not ready to reveal much about it… other than to say it will only interest a very small percentage of those reading this blog.

Building a website is like building anything else – you need a vision. The finished product might differ from that early idea, but there’s got to be something to aim for. It has been tough coming up with the vision.

Finally last night, around 4:45 AM, it started to come into focus. I was playing around in Photoshop and found a design for the site’s logo. It was an accident. I did something wrong, but liked the result! It contained enough elements of style and typography to start defining the rest of the page.

As I continued, I was constantly reminded how little I know about web design! The nuts and bolts are done in a few very simple computer languages: HTML and CSS. I am picking up what I need on the fly.

If you’re really interested, your browser has the ability to show you the ‘source’ for any web page you’re on. That’s what the browser sees and what I was writing today. Though there are fine programs for doing this, I chose to write by hand in a notebook program.

Over the past few years, I’ve read about inconsistencies Microsoft designed into Internet Explorer. In some cases IE works opposite the standards! There are workarounds, but the first time you look at your page, and then watch it get mangled when displayed in IE, is very frustrating.

Maybe I’m being a little too innocent, but I think the site can be mostly finished this weekend. That would be great.

Unfortunately, as little as I know about web design, I know less about the next steps! Wish me luck.